A fashionable resort for well over a century, and a preferred destination for the international jet set, Deauville was regarded as “the Cannes of the north” long before anyone had the idea to launch a film festival there. But 34 years after it began, the American Film Festival of Deauville has carved out a niche as France’s second-most-prestigious fest. Like a kind of cinephile’s Euro Disney, it offers visitors a close encounter with Hollywood, just two hours’ drive from Paris.
According to its longtime artistic director, Bruno Barde, “Deauville’s primary function is simply to be, at a certain time during the year, a place where everyone looks up to American film art.”
Its program of roughly 100 films — divided more or less evenly among new features, “Uncle Sam Docs” and recognized classics — is therefore selected, he says, with a simple aim in mind: “To show that American cinema was and still is one of the most creative and vibrant in the world.”
Last year saw 200,000 visitors flock to the fest, and more than 55,000 tickets sold. Yet a number of French commentators have expressed reservations, claiming that Deauville is merely enshrining a Hollywood culture that already dominates the local box office.
With its healthy star wattage (last year’s guests included Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Michael Douglas), Deauville serves as both an effective release platform for U.S. majors and a handy one-stop junket opportunity for Euro press disinclined to schlep all the way across the Atlantic for Toronto.
Barde, however, will hear none of it: “Talent,” he declares, “has no frontiers. If cinema is great, it should be shown. American cinema has simply found a way of expressing itself internationally, which makes it the No. 1 in the world.”
This particular ability, he adds, transcends even the irrefutable forces of the free market: “It’s not only for economic reasons. It’s because it aims at the heart, the soul and the spirit — and these are all places where there are no borders.”
When: Sept. 5-14
Where: Deauville, France